Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup 2010 : the unravelled story till now...

The world cup 2010 is at its crossroads. The 1st round of matches will end today, and the knock-out phase will start from tomorrow. We have already seen almost all the things needed to make this event a memorable one. French revolution, expulsion of Anelka, re-emergence of Uruguay as footballing power, return of Diego Maradona in world cup stage with full flare and color, explosion of Lionel Messi and his "jogo bonito", drab display of England in 1st few matches, Germany's total change of palying style, asia over europe , expulsion of an ageing Italy from 1st round, play-acting, fewer goals, defensive tactics, Spain's failure to break swiss jungle, well this list will go on and on. In a nutshell, this world cup has already too many variations in its plate. Oh I almost forgot to mention, Zabulani and Vuvuzela. The two biggest villains in this world cup. Zabulani is swinging around unpredictably, vuvuzela is making unbearable noises..even defenders cannot listen to each other.
Players coaches alike wanted to ban vuvuzela but Fifa did not want to play with local people's sentiment in south africa. So the irritating sounds are on.
This world cup has already seen the exit of the finalists of 2006 edition, Italy and France. These two sides have not adjusted to the football that has progressed a lot in last 4 years. For France, it was a total disaster. The players were totally against adamant Domenech, and it seemed no one wanted to play in the world cup. We all remember that their entry to the world cup at the expense of Ireland was full of controversy with Henry's handball pass to the winning goal on aggregate. Well, for them, it is Karma, what went around, came back around. Ribery emerged in world football seen in last world cup . He formed a great partnership with Zidane and helped France to reach the world cup final. Well there is no Zidane, ribery is total flop after a great club season, Henry was non-existent(much like his season at Barcelona), defence was full of miseries, Samir Nasri was left at home, and a footballing nation that has seen great heights over last decade is on complete decline, and reached nadir. Hope Laurent Blanc will be able to pull them up from ashes when he takes charge after the world cup.
Italy's story is different. They received two major and significant blows at the beginning of their campaign. Gianluigi Buffon, who conceded only one goal in open play in last world cup, and was pillar to their success last time, has to be taken off the field with back injury in the match against Paraguay. Andre Pirlo, their main architect and ball player in midfield, hasn't even got the chance to play the 1st two games. Without these two, Italy looked completely out-of sorts in the field. The attack lacked god finishers, there is no Baggio, no altobeli, no Paolo Rossi, not even any Luca Toni or Francesco Totti or Del Piero calibre players. Iaquinta, Zillardino, Quaglirella, Di Natale..they still have a long way to go before they can claim themselves successful International strikers. The defence , which was Italia pride over last century, is now a pale shadow of its glorious past. Cannavaro, the golden ball winner four years ago was leaking balls and forwards every minute. This inept defender now has totally lost interest i football, and it is a crime on behalf of Italian football federation and team management which carried him to south africa. Chiellini tried his best, but he is not the person to carry forward the legacy of Maldinis, Barresis, Nestas. Intermilan, which won the champions league this year, did not have a single Italian player in their starting line-up. Montolivo is the only layer who can be taken as positive emergence for the new-generation of Italian football. Serious re-thinking is needed to be done in Italian football if they wish to remain as footballing superpower in coming years.
That brings me to discuss the other groups and big teams that are on display in this world cup. One can write a lot about Argentina, as that team is looking most colorful in this world cup. Not only on-field but off-field as well. Diego Maradona is their coach, and we need not say anything more about the reason behind their colorfulness.
They had a disastrous qualifying campaign, but cometh the world cup, the plethora of attacking stars led my Messi and ably supported by Tevez, Higuain, de Maria, Aguerro, Milito have exploded wonderfuly. Though they have scored 7 goals in 3 games, with Messi yet to open his account, they have created numerous chances, and showed perfect display of hold-create-pass-shoot football. The strikers have been opportunistic, and conversion rate became good after 1st match. Yet I think Argentina will not win this world cup as their defence looks weak, really weak. With Samuels injured, it looks even weaker. But hey, things with Argentina, specially when Diego is involved in the equation, never went according to the "so called" plan.
South Korea impressed with their fast run and passing ball play. They will be a good fight against Uruguay at the round of 16. Uruguay seems to have found its lost glory to some extent. Diego Forlan is undoubtedly one of the best strikers in the world right now, and Luis Suarez is a good converter of chances as well.
In Group C, England came with lot of expectations with Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, Terry etc donning the headlines. They claimed to be serious contender, and coach Fabio Capello has already won big accolades in club level and no stranger to success. They started of well against USA , scoring with-in 4 minutes of the start, but then the Green howler came. Then the Algerian howler came where they failed to score. And suddenly England found them on the brink of elimination if they fail to beat Slovenia, who was almost in last 16 without doing much. England defeated Slovenia 1-0, wasting 16 more chances to score, and with USA's last gasp winner against Algeria, they face Germany in last 16 clash.
England vs Germany. Yah, with all the history, politics, battles, football, culture everything associated with it, Sunday 27th June will see a classic. The quality of football that will be on display may not steal the limelight, but the magnitude of the event will. Ghana is the only african nations to have qualified for the 2nd round, and looks to be the only one as other african nations have been already eliminated and Cote d'Ivore have a huge 9 goal deficit over Portugal. Holland did not get a chance to explode, but showed enough to suggest that they can be a serious threat to Brazil if they meet in QF according to the schedule. Robben did not play the 1st two matches , but played for last 15 minutes against Cameroon and already shown glimpses of what is about to come in next round here they face Slovakia.
Ah, Slovakia..a complete fairy-tale story. When Kiwis scored an injury time goal to equalise against them, no one thought that 2 weeks later, they will be the team in last 16 from this group and they will be the team to send the defending world champions packing. Robert Vittek emerged as a strong striker, and defence looked organized against Italy. Hamsik led the team well against azzuri's and they deserve a place in last 16, which looked next to impossible before their match against Italy. Kiwis are one team going out of world cup without losing a match. They drew all three matches, and should feel proud of their achievement in this world cup.

This brings us to the group of death. Portugal started of with a 0-0 draw with Cote d'Ivore in the 1st match where Drogba came as substitute with metal cast wrapped around his broken hand. He failed to make any mark on the pitch. Brazil got past DPR Korea 2-1, with the little Koreans showing signs of real fight in future games. Brazil has changed their style of play. With lot of players playing european league, the latin american flair has given way to result oriented football, which is adapted by most coaches now=a=days world over. Jose Maurinho has shown the way that results are important in football match, so hang your "Jogo bonito".
Its a philosophers debate as beauty vs business, and though personally I prefer the former, I have to admit that business-like Brazil means business. They look the most complete team with Lucio Maicon in defence, Elano, Melo in midfield, and Kaka-Robinho-Fabiano leading the attack. It will take really something extra-ordinary from anyone to beat Brazil in this world cup. Dunga has done his homework.
People went ga ga over Portugal hammering 7 past DPR Korea, but I see that more as complete inexperienced display from Koreans rather than Portugese excellence. Indeed the Ronaldos and Simaos played well, but the real test for them awaits in next game against Brazil, and possible R16 match against Spain....
...if Spain qualifies. A big IF. Spain's loss to the swiss' is one of the biggest world cup shocks. Spain displayed barcelona model football over last few years . Barcelona model has won Spain euro 2008, barcelona model has won FC Barcelona 7 trophies in last 1and half years. So this model is successful. Model of passing the ball, keeping it in ground, change places off the ball swiftly, and clinical finishing. David Villa, Torres, Iniesta, Xavi, Ramos, Capdevilla, Silva, Jesus Navas...the names are good enough to succeed..right?
Well swiss took a leaf out of Maurinho's book, and park their team bus in-front of their goal. Spain failed to find the door-key of the bus, and Swiss score on the break to win 1-0. Shocking.!! So shocking that spanish media brought Iker Casillas' journalist girlfriend as distractor in the stands for their skipper keeper when swiss score. Though Spain came back in winning ways against Honduras, their match against Chile will again define their campaign. There is one thing developing a model in training ground, but it is completely different thing to execute that model in actual playing field, with the task more difficult if the stage is world cup.
After the 1st round, some interesting trends have been developed. Mediocre European countries are lagging behind emerging asian countries. Japan 3-1 Denmark type scoreline was largely unimaginable thing a decade ago. Time have changed. Though teams play in safety-first modes lot of times, coaches have found ways to break defences. There is a tendency of teams to not work properly for creating a chance. Teams like Slovenia, Slovakia, NewZealand, Algeria, Serbia...instead of working creatively, they hit the ball in the air, and hope for the best. This type of football is not effective anymore. Aussies realise that in last match, played well. Algeria tried to create chances on the ground against US, played well. You have to work for your chances, pass the ball, change place, go the wing and cut back.
Latin America is also doing well. Paraguay & Uruguay along with Brazil Argentina already qualified for Round of 16, Chile already has 6 points. Attacking flare has won over defensive style so far, though number of goals are not soaring high. 95 goals from 44 matches. Though 70 goals have been scored in last 28 matches , as 1st round of matches in 8 groups produced only 25 goals.
Seemingly easy groups were complicated, Group F was considered to be easiest for Italy, in which they finished last, group H was very easy for Spain which is going down to wire in the last day. Group C was supposed to be a cake walk for England, which is won by US with a last minute goal. Group of death Group G on the other hand almost is decided with one round of matches to go. So, the unpredictable nature of world cup continues.
So, the stage is set for Messi, Forlan, Park Ji Sung, Landon Donovan, Lukas Podolski,Ozeil, Mueller, Wayne Rooney, Arjen Roben, Keusike Honda, Kaka, Ronaldo and others who will join them in knock-out phase, to explode and make this memorable world cup even more exciting..
The real battle is about to begin..so fasten your seat belts..!!

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